Why Oklahoma State football can be excited about linebackers with Collin Oliver, Justin Wright

·3 min read

STILLWATER — As is the theme of the defense this spring at Oklahoma State, the linebacker position is set to look quite different.

It might, however, come with the most exciting change of any.

Collin Oliver, once an All-Big 12 and Freshman All-America selection as a defensive end, is now a linebacker. He has slimmed down a bit to 235 pounds and the quick-twitch speed he showed off the line of scrimmage should be an ideal fit a few steps back.

Head coach Mike Gundy says the Cowboys will still shift to some four-down fronts, which could give Oliver the chance to get back on the line of scrimmage and use his frighteningly fast first step to pressure quarterbacks.

In the last of our spring series previewing each position group, here’s a look at the linebackers:

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Oklahoma State linebackers Collin Oliver (30) and Bo Hardy (51) go through drills in the first practice of spring.
Oklahoma State linebackers Collin Oliver (30) and Bo Hardy (51) go through drills in the first practice of spring.

Season rewind

The 2022 season was going to be a step back for the Cowboys, no matter what. Two NFL draft picks, Malcolm Rodriguez and Devin Harper, were gone, and the Pokes were going to be counting on talented but far less experienced players in the two linebacker roles.

Mason Cobb proved his ability to get into position to make plays, finishing second on the team with 96 tackles, including 13 for loss and 11 quarterback hurries. But he wasn’t the sure tackler Rodriguez and Harper had been, coming up empty-handed a few too many times.

Junior-college transfer Xavier Benson had ups and downs in his first season with the Cowboys. He was third on the team with 76 tackles, but struggled at times as well, particularly when he found himself in pass coverage.

More:'Let’s lock in': Why Oklahoma State football's Collin Oliver excited by move to linebacker

Who’s out

Mason Cobb, Lamont Bishop, Nadrian Dizadare

Who’s in

Justin Wright, Ike Esonwune*, Poasa Utu*

*-Will enroll in June

More:Oklahoma State football facing player turnover, scheme change for defensive line

The take

With Oliver’s move, it eases the jump from from two linebackers to three. Justin Wright, a prototypical middle linebacker with a strong track record at Tulsa, should step into a starting role out the gate.

Benson returns, but his starting job is no guarantee. The Cowboys have recruited well at linebacker in recent years, but those prospects — guys like Jeff Roberson, Nick Martin, Donovan Stephens and Gabe Brown — have yet to get their chance on the field.

That chance, in some form, comes this spring.

From an experience standpoint, Benson has the upper hand. He was a starter at Texas Tech in 2019  before going to Tyler (Texas) Junior College, then started all last year at OSU. But the youngsters behind him are coming fast.

This spring will be not only important for development and learning the new defense, but for setting the depth chart heading into fall camp.

Roberson was showing promise last year before an injury ended his season. Martin played sparingly as a backup and was important on special teams as well. Stephens got valuable special teams action as well.

More:Why this spring is chance for Oklahoma State football to reinvent its offensive line

Depth chart

The starters

Collin Oliver, Jr., 6-2, 235

Justin Wright, RSr.^, 6-2, 244

Xavier Benson, RSr.^, 6-2, 224

The reserves

Jeff Roberson, RJr., 6-1, 230

Nick Martin, RSo., 6-0, 215

Donovan Stephens, RSo., 6-0, 220

Gabe Brown, RFr., 6-2, 224


This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma State football depth chart for linebackers in 2023 spring